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Lord Hanningfield: I want to pursue the amendment a little further with the Minister. The collection authorities are very small and any increase in expenditure will place a considerable additional burden on them. The Local Government Association anticipates that it will have to keep records and that it will have to use some staff to help the disposal authorities to comply with the legislation. We do not believe that the collection authorities will get by without doing any work at all. The disposal authorities are far larger and will possibly have more resources, but the provision will have some impact on the collection authorities. For very small authorities, a small amount of expenditure can mean a 1 per cent rise in council tax.
One problem that we have not discussed is that local government is keener than the Government on recycling and reducing waste. If we are not careful with the Bill, by minimising waste and by thinking of new ways to dispose of it, we shall take away resources from those who do such work. As an executive, the Local Government Association is involved, and I know of no authority that is not putting much effort into trying to do such work. The Bill will divert money away from that to keeping records and dealing in futuresin landfill coupons, as it were. The Government must recognise that in future settlements.
We had a settlement recently but its size meant a major redistribution of money. The 10 million people surrounding Londonone of the most populated areas in the countryhave suffered considerably. As I said earlier, we have received a settlement of only just over 3 per cent for all the 10 million people who surround London. That will certainly mean no investment there to implement the Bill for several years, because the settlement carries on through several years, through dampening of our resources. So that applies not just this year but for several years. I therefore cannot agree with the Minister that there is money for thatthere certainly is not in the south of the country. The Government must recognise that there must be further government investment to implement the Bill and to help the whole waste strategy. Perhaps the Minister can give a few more answers, because we in local government cannot agree with the comments that he has just made.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Before the Minister does so, can I ask him again about enforcement? Clearly, someone will have to enforce the Bill's provisions. We should know how that is to be done. Will there be an inspectorate, or what? How much will that cost? What will its powers be?
The other point is that disposal authorities are often the same as the collection authorities. By fining a disposal authority in one way or another, we will be fining a collection authority as well. The fact is that, whoever and whatever it is, the cost will surely be placed on the back of the council tax payer.
Lord Greaves: I want to pursue two points that have arisen. First, the Minister said that lots of money has been provided in the recent settlement for local authorities. Is he saying that the costs of implementing the Bill were specifically taken account of in the recent local government settlement?
Secondly, I return to the question of penalties, which are referred to in both the clauses to which the amendments refer. Those are penalties for not providing information in certain circumstances, and are to be set out in regulationspart of the skeletal nature of the Bill. What penalties are envisaged, at
Lord Whitty: The next group of amendments deals in part with penalties for failure to provide information, as distinct from failure to meet the targetsalthough I shall have to check on that. The enforcement agency in this context will in England be the Environment Agency. The priorities of the Environment Agency, which are already geared to waste minimisation and dealing with waste, must be directed at the inspection and delivery of the Bill's provisions. The strategy implied by this Billindeed the overall waste strategylasts much longer than the current spending round or the current rate support grant settlement. There will be a longer term resource requirement but, in terms of the overall increase in allocation of resources to local authorities, waste strategy requirements form a significant part of the changed overall allocation, as they were in the allocation to DEFRA in the three-year spending review.
I also said earlier that we will need to consider whether there are any additional funding requirements as a result of the waste strategy issued a few weeks ago. In that context, we will need to consider whether there are any additional funding requirements for the delivery of that and other aspects of the strategy. It is not necessarily the end of the story on resources, but there is access to other forms of funding as well to deliver the capital side of the strategy.
The penalties will be specified in the regulations and they may be different for different situations. For example, the penalty for failure to provide information will be different from penalties for actions which, in effect, amount to fraud or to providing misleading information. There are precedents for those penalties.
Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. The two clauses that we are discussing refer to provision of informationfor example, provision of information in relation to the inter-utilisation of allowances. The Minister said that penalties for that might be different from penalties for other failures. What kind of penalties are the Government considering imposing on waste disposal authorities if they fail to meet a deadline for information, or whatever?
Lord Whitty: The distinction that I was drawing was between sanctions for failure to meet the overall targets, which must clearly be substantial because they must be greater than the compliance costs to provide an incentive to comply, and penalties that relate to failure to provide information, fraud or whatever, where we have several possible precedents under various Acts for the kind of penalties necessary.
Clearly it is necessary that waste disposal authorities provide a flow of information, without which the system would break down. However, that does not concern fraud or failure to meet huge targetsand therefore matters at the heart of the whole system, where authorities are penalised if they dispose of far too much waste or whatever. Those are bureaucratic tasks that rely on people carrying them out efficiently and providing information as required.
I submit that it is not normal in local government or in authorities generally for failure to comply with that bureaucratic task to meet penalties. Perhaps it is. I am trying to extract from the Minister what is meant by penalties. What kind of penalties might be thought appropriate to place upon a waste disposal authority that fails to provide such information by the due date? That is what we are talking about.
Lord Whitty: The Act provides for those penalties to be set down in regulation. We are now talking about the Environment Agency's enforcement strategy, for example. There are plenty of other regimes where failure to provide information leads to a penalty.
Whether we choose to mirror that exactly or to have a similar provision in the regulations is normally a matter for secondary, not primary, legislation. Today I am not in a position to give an indication of the level of penalties that we are talking about, but they would be similar to penalties for similar offences under equivalent regimes. There are examples of that in relation to local authorities, and in relation to private sector companies.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: That is an important point. If we are to hear the level of penalties only when the regulations are published, that will be too late. We shall not be able to do anything about them. The House of Commons certainly will not be able to amend the regulations even if they are of an affirmative nature. I do not know whether they will be negative or affirmative but, in any event, the House of Commons will not be able to amend them. The House of Lords may be able to delay them, but once they are in the regulations, Parliament can do nothing about them.
That is not a democratic way to proceed. Indeed, it is a very autocratic way to proceed. It is a danger to local authorities, to those who serve on them, and to those who serve them. We should not allow it. I hope that the Minister will tell the Committee that he will give us some indication at Report stage of the penalties intended, and upon whom they are to be levied.
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